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How To Plot Latitude And Longitude

December 09, 2020 5 min read

How To Plot Latitude And Longitude on a map


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Nothing makes the Earth seem so spacious as t have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes - Henry David Thoreau 

The world has become an increasingly small place. Thanks to the internet and near-instantaneous communication, nowhere on Earth is further away than the touch of a button. By pointing an icon at a tab on a screen, you can talk, face to face, to someone in Sydney or London as easily as you can your next-door neighbor. Distance has become no object, and journeys that at one time would have taken months by sea, now take hours in jet-powered airliners.  The places that were once shrouded in mystery and wonder have now become tourist traps and the areas of our planet that remain uncharted are decreasing by the day. The age of the explorer is slowly, but surely, drawing to a charted, mapped, and photographed climax. 

While satellite navigation and GPS, the global positioning system that relies on an array of satellites in earth orbit to provide the direction and distances for satellite navigation to work, are readily available tools that anyone with a smartphone can use, less than forty years ago, if you wanted to travel from one place to another, your journey usually started with a map. In order to use that map properly, you needed to know how to read it, a process that was gradually made easier over the centuries by the dedication of countless generations of cartographers, who transformed the creation of maps into an art form. And the art form, and the creation of the maps that are still used as the basis for satellite navigation, wouldn’t be, and wouldn't have been, possible without longitude and latitude. 

What Are Longitude And Latitude? 

In a nutshell? They are the joint axis on any map that, when combined, will provide the exact coordinates of anywhere in the world. It’s a simple answer to a much broader question, that really deserves a much broader answer. That’s why we’re going to take a more in-depth look at both and explain how they work in conjunction with each other, which will help you to plot (or use) both on a map or a satellite navigation system to find your way to any point on the globe. 

First Things First

It’s impossible to discuss either latitude or longitude without stressing their importance to human civilization. Vital to the development of trade and exploration, before they were commonly used in conjunction with each other, ships used to navigate by sailing close to land and remaining close to familiar territory as sailors didn’t have a reliable method that allowed them to make the international journeys that global trade and travel now relies on. And without the ability to chart the world and establish the system of latitude and longitude on which it relies, there wouldn’t be any air travel. Without longitude and latitude, we’d still be living in the middle ages and the world would be a much different place. 

A Brief History of Latitude And Longitude

Even though we tend to think of latitude and longitude as a relatively recent development, the idea for both dates back to the third-century BCE. when the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes suggested a system that used latitude and longitude to aid the safe navigation of seagoing vessels, Barely one hundred years later, in the second century BCE, the astronomer Hipparchus devised a method of separating a circle into three hundred and sixty degrees to allow travelers to postulate and formulate the location of places anywhere in the known world.  Scholars such as Ptolemy took up the mantle and over the next millennia and a half advanced the science of map creation and cartography. But it wasn't until the development of increasingly accurate clocks and telescopes, at the request of various world governments at the beginning of the industrial age, who offered vast substantial financial rewards to anyone who could create accurate navigational aids, that reliable methods of precisely measuring latitude and longitude were finally established. 

What Is Latitude? 

Latitude is the geographical, North to South coordinate of any, and all places on Earth. It is commonly defined as an angle between zero and ninety degrees, with zero being located at the Equator and ninety degrees being assigned the value that measures the location or a place North or South, from the Equator.  The higher the value of the measurement (the bigger the number is), the further North or South, in relation to the Equator that place is, with the furthest points, the North and South Poles being assigned the highest value (ninety degrees) in either direction. 

What Is Longitude? 

Longitude is the geographical counter-measurement of latitude and measures the distance that a location is either East or West. Measured in degrees and minutes (the latter being a subdivision of the former to give a more precise location or measurement), longitude is measured from what is known as the Prime Meridian line (Green Observatory, in London) and assigned a value of up to ninety degrees in either direction. Assigned either a positive or negative value, with positive values designating that the location of the place is in the East and negative meaning that it is in the West. The higher a location's numerical value is, the further East or West it is. 

How To Plot Longitude And Latitude

Plotting longitude and latitude on a map is a relatively straightforward and easy procedure. To find the precise location of anywhere using the longitudinal value and the numerical latitudinal value,  first, ascertain the correct longitudinal position by using the numerical markings on the top of a map (presented in degrees and minutes) to measure the distance of the longitude you have been given. Once you have counted along the line and found corresponding values (or the same number) in degrees and minutes, mark that point on your longitudinal axis.

Then do the same by tracking the latitudinal value by following the measurements on the side of the map from the top to the bottom. Once you have located the same numerical value (presented in degrees and minutes), mark that point on the line. Then, using a rule or similar straight-edged drawing implement, draw a perfectly straight line across the map from the latitudinal point you located. After that, draw a perfectly straight line down the map from the point at which you located your longitudinal axis. 

The point at which both lines intersect is the latitudinal and longitudinal point of the place you are looking for, and the precise, and correct, way to plot latitude and longitude.  However, given that we now live in an increasingly technological age, on any GPS locator, you will be given the option to enter both a latitudinal and longitudinal location, and the satellite navigation system will plot, and find directions to, that location for you. Sometimes though, it’s nice to be able to do things the old way and plot latitude and longitude the same way that cartographers have been doing for centuries. 

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